Fast Fashion, environmental, and social impact of economical clothing: addressing the global challenge

handmade, local production, environment, The other side of charity: the fast fashion
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Fast fashion, a model of rapid and low-cost clothing production and consumption, is increasingly raising concerns due to its effects on the environment and global economies. Television and mass media, in general, are discussing this phenomenon more frequently because its scope has become so extensive that it can no longer be ignored.

Numerous studies have highlighted the significant environmental impact caused by the fashion industry, including greenhouse gas emissions, water resource utilization, and the generation of waste that ends up being burned in gigantic landfills or entering the food chain through microplastics.

The African dumpsite

The consumption of fast fashion has contributed to the influx of thousands of tons of used clothes into African countries like Ghana. This phenomenon, known as “clothing dumping” or “textile dumping,” has been highlighted by research and investigative journalism. Western countries produce and consume large quantities of low-cost clothing, which is worn for short periods and then donated or sold as used clothing. Ghana has become one of the major recipients of these used clothes, with secondary markets and sorting centers such as the Kantamanto market in Accra, its capital.

Although the arrival of used clothing may seem like an opportunity to purchase affordable garments, it has caused damage to the local textile industry. The huge supply of used clothing from abroad has made it difficult for local producers to compete, leading many to close their facilities, resulting in job losses.

There are several research studies and reports documenting this phenomenon. Organizations like Oxfam have conducted studies on the impact of clothing dumping on African economies. These reports offer a detailed view of the social and economic effects of clothing dumping in these communities.

Clothing dumping has both positive and negative consequences. On one hand, it offers economic access to clothing for people who otherwise couldn’t afford it. On the other hand, it harms the local industry, creates a dependence on used clothing, and has an environmental impact that, given the numbers, is indeed devastating.

How sorting occurs

There are several reasons why used clothes end up in Ghana and other African countries. Some key factors include:

  1. Donations and donors: western countries donate large quantities of used clothes to charity organizations. These organizations, in turn, may sell or distribute used clothes to developing countries. The choice to send used clothes to Ghana or other parts of Africa may depend on agreements between charity organizations, used clothing exporters, and local recipients.
  2. Importation infrastructures: some African states, like Ghana, have developed infrastructures for the importation and distribution of used clothing. This may include secondary markets and sorting centers that handle large quantities of used clothes from various sources.
  3. Demand for used clothing: in many African countries, used clothing is popular due to its availability at affordable prices. The demand for used clothing can be supported by individuals with limited incomes who cannot afford new clothes. Additionally, some used clothes become desirable due to fashion trends or cultural and style reasons.
  4. Effects of globalization: globalization has opened doors to much less regulated and limited international trade and circulation of goods compared to the past. Used clothing has become an integral part of global trade, with flows of goods moving across continents.

The Kantamanto market

The Kantamanto market in Accra is known to be one of the largest markets for used clothing in West Africa. Here, used clothes are sorted, selected, and sold at affordable prices to a wide range of buyers, including local residents, retailers, and small traders.

However, it’s important to emphasize that Ghana’s role as a sorting center is just a part of the broader phenomenon of the global used clothing trade. There are similar flows of used clothing reaching other African states and even other parts of the developing world.

How important is local production?

abbigliamento artigianale il sarto della nostra zona. macchina da cucire.

Fast Fashion’s impact on other poor countries

Apart from Ghana, other African countries involved in the used clothing trade include:

  1. Nigeria: it is one of the major importers of used clothing in Africa. Sorting centers like Balogun Market in Lagos are known for selling used clothes from various international sources.
  2. Kenya: here, markets like Gikomba Market in Nairobi are known for the used clothing trade. Large quantities of used clothes are imported and then resold locally.
  3. Uganda: it is involved in the used clothing trade, with places like Owino Market in Kampala offering a wide selection of used clothes from various parts of the world.
  4. Tanzania: the city of Dar es Salaam is a major center for the used clothing trade. Here, there are markets and commercial areas offering a variety of used clothes.
  5. Benin: the city of Cotonou in Benin is a regional hub for used clothing. Clothes are mainly imported from European markets and distributed across West Africa.

Air pollution and greenhouse gas Emissions produced by Fast Fashion

According to some estimates, hundreds of thousands of tons of used clothing arrive in Africa each year. Some reports indicate figures ranging from 200,000 to 500,000 tons or even more, but it’s important to note that these figures are approximate and can vary.

A study conducted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimated that the fashion industry contributes to 2-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions are primarily caused by the production and transportation of textile materials and clothing. The Global Fashion Agenda and the Boston Consulting Group reported that the fashion industry’s greenhouse gas emissions amount to around 1.2 billion tons of CO2eq per year, accounting for 4% of total global emissions.

Source: Boston Consulting Group (BCG) & Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), Pulse of the Fashion Industry 2017, Global Fashion Agenda, 2017 (https://globalfashionagenda.org/product/pulse-of-the-fashion-industry-2017).


However, it should be remembered that CO2 and pollution are not the same thing.

Microplastics, microscopic plastic particles, can be present in synthetic fabrics or may result from the degradation of plastic fibers during washing or wear of clothes. These microplastics can be released into the environment during the lifecycle of clothes and can have negative impacts on aquatic ecosystems and marine fauna.

What proven effects do microplastics have?

  1. Marine fauna: microplastics are harmful to marine organisms, causing digestive damage, behavioral alterations, and toxin accumulation.
  2. Food chain: the buildup of microplastics along the food chain poses risks to predatory animals and humans.
  3. Human health: Accumulation of microplastics in human tissues, with potential long-term damages.
  4. Environmental pollution: the persistence of microplastics in aquatic and terrestrial environments threatens biodiversity and ecosystems.

Spirit of St. Louis contributes to limiting harmful emissions for the planet and creates jobs in Italy

By producing collections in small quantities locally, prioritizing high-quality, long-lasting items that help you save.

Brands like Spirit of St. Louis offer high-quality jeans at more accessible prices compared to big-name brands, using premium materials such as Japanese denim, known for its superior quality and natural dyeing process – without the use of harmful chemicals for both humans and the environment, ensuring durability and low environmental impact.

tela iceman by Spirit of St. Louis - vista posteriore

Click here to discover how we achieve this!

Water resource usage

The fashion industry requires a vast amount of water for dyeing, finishing, and production processes. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the fashion industry uses about 4% of the world’s freshwater, which equates to approximately 93 billion cubic meters per year. This unsustainable exploitation of water resources has negative consequences on global water supply and the biodiversity of water ecosystems.

Waste Generation One of the key issues of fast fashion is the production and accumulation of textile waste. It’s estimated that 73% of materials used in the fashion industry end up in landfills or are incinerated at the end of their useful life. This results in a massive waste of resources and contributes to soil and air pollution. The amount of unused textile waste and textile product waste is estimated to be around 500 billion dollars annually.

Financial impact on African economies

The phenomenon of fast fashion has had a significant impact on African economies, especially concerning the used clothing sent to Africa. These flows of used clothing from Western countries have led to market saturation locally, causing damage to African textile industries and the local craftsmanship sector.

Il lato nascosto della fast fashion
The downside of fast fashion

 


Exploitation also in Europe

A recent investigation conducted by the Sunday Times revealed that in the city of Leicester, the hourly wages at a factory producing fast fashion on behalf of BOOHOO were as low as £3.50, compared to a minimum wage set at £10.42/h. Considering the cost of living in England, this wage is much lower than that of workers in the Middle East and the Far East.

In another inquiry focused on BOOHOO, this time by the Times, it was disclosed that employees within the factory referred to themselves as slaves.

Who are the major Fast Fashion producers

The term ‘fast fashion’ refers to a model of clothing production and consumption characterized by rapid and low-cost manufacturing of new fashion pieces, often in response to the latest trends, and the quick turnover of collections. Many well-known brands have been associated with the concept of fast fashion. Some of the most notable names in the fast fashion sector include:

  • Zara (Inditex Group): Zara is one of the most famous fast fashion brands and is part of the Inditex group, which also owns other brands like Pull&Bear, Massimo Dutti, Bershka, and Stradivarius.
  • H&M (Hennes & Mauritz): H&M is another highly popular fast fashion brand known for its rapid and affordable clothing production.
  • Forever 21: Forever 21 is a US-based fast fashion brand offering a wide range of trendy and inexpensive clothing.
  • Primark: Primark is an Irish brand that has expanded internationally, offering low-cost clothing.
  • Topshop: Topshop is a British brand that has gained popularity in the fast fashion sector.

Are there Italian manufacturers?

Some examples of Italian brands that could fit into the fast fashion category include:

  • Benetton: it’s an Italian brand known for its fashionable and affordable clothing. The company was founded in 1965 in Ponzano Veneto, Italy, and has stores worldwide.
  • OVS: it’s an Italian brand offering affordable clothing. The company is headquartered in Mestre, Italy, and operates both in Italy and abroad.
  • Terranova: Terranova is an Italian brand offering trendy and budget-friendly clothing. The company is based in Verona, Italy, and has a presence in several countries.

These are just a few examples of brands associated with the fast fashion concept, but there are many other brands operating in this sector. It’s important to emphasize that responsibility in the fast fashion phenomenon is not solely limited to manufacturers but also involves consumers, raw material suppliers, and the entire clothing supply chain.

Alcuni dei principali brand produttori di fast fashion

 

Pandabuy, Shein, and others

A fundamental gear in the distribution and consumption of fast fashion involves Chinese giants reaching consumers through their online portals, especially the younger demographic.

The most famous and widespread among Western populations is Shein, while Pandabuy, specializing in counterfeit brands and specific products, is more popular among teenagers.

According to an investigation from the Untold series led by reporter Iman Amrani titled ‘The Shein Machine,‘ workers are exploited under slave-like conditions. As reported by Repubblica, exploited workers are subjected to the following conditions:

  • They work 17-18 hours a day.
  • They work 7 days a week.
  • The base salary is 4,000 yuan per month, approximately 540 euros.
  • The first paycheck is held back by the company.
  • They are paid 40 cents per clothing piece.
  • The minimum required production is 500 pieces per person per day.
  • They have one day of ‘vacation’ per month.
  • If they make a single mistake, they do not receive ⅔ of their daily wage.

Shein itself had to acknowledge the charges, stating a willingness to invest 15 million in improving the situation; a declaration that raised doubts as a classic greenwashing operation…


 

The greenwashing operations of the brands involved

A recent Greenpeace investigation titled ‘Greenwashing danger zone’ (download the PDF file), which examined 29 fast fashion brands, brought to light numerous new data. Here are some samples representing the real cost of low-cost fashion:

  • Exploitation of workers;
  • Harmful and polluting substances used in fabric dyeing;
  • Massive consumption of primary resources.

The brands mentioned in the investigation attempt to clean up their image by applying labels claiming sustainability that, in reality, does not exist.

In fact, BCI-branded cotton, according to Greenpeace, actually uses up to 67% of pesticides. Recycled polyester fibers, even though derived from the recycling of used plastic bottles, are not actually recyclable once the clothes are disposed of, releasing 1900 microfibers with each wash that end up in the food chain.

Viscose fabrics are produced using harmful chemicals. In addition, the use of cellulose, according to the investigation, accounts for only 14% from certified forests according to international sustainability standards.

The sustainability labels of the 29 brands examined are self-certified, and therefore, they are not approved by independent third-party certifying bodies.

In Europe alone, 5.8 million tons of clothing are discarded every year.


 

Countries with the highest Fast Fashion consumption in the World

  • United States: characterized by high clothing consumption and the presence of numerous fast fashion brands.
  • United Kingdom: boasts a vibrant fashion industry and is a hub for consumer trends.
  • China: shows a significant increase in clothing consumption due to a large population and a growing middle class.
  • India: given its large and growing middle-class population, there’s a notable increase in clothing consumption.
  • Brazil: represents a significant consumption market in South America, with an interest in fashion and fast fashion brands.

And in Europe…

  • United Kingdom: as mentioned above, the UK is considered one of the leading fast fashion markets in Europe. London, in particular, is known as a fashion capital and a hub for consumer trends.
  • Germany: Germany is an important consumption market in Europe, including clothing. Cities like Berlin and Munich are known for their fashion scenes and the presence of numerous fast fashion brands.
  • France: France is famous for its influence in the fashion industry and its elegant style. Paris is considered one of the global fashion capitals. Although the concept of fast fashion might conflict with the concept of French haute couture, French consumers can still engage in affordable and trendy clothing consumption.
  • Spain: Spain is known for a strong presence of fast fashion brands like Zara (Inditex), headquartered in La Coruña. The country has a culture of affordable and trendy fashion, and major cities like Barcelona and Madrid are important hubs for consumer trends.
  • Italy: Italy has a long tradition in the fashion industry, and some of the world’s most important fashion houses originate from Italy. However, fast fashion consumption is also present in the country, especially among younger consumers.

Which age groups ere more engaged in Fast Fashion?

Even if the general trend is that of a significant increase in so-called responsible consumption some studies, including the one conducted by GlobalWebIndex in 2020 indicates that to address the fast fashion phenomenon, the focus should start with the youth.

The study found that younger consumers were generally more inclined to purchase fast fashion clothing than older consumers. The report indicated that 40% of consumers aged 16-24 had bought fast fashion clothing in the previous year, compared to 25% of consumers over 55 years old.

consumatori di fast fashion per fascia d'età

  1. Millennials: also known as the millennial generation, were born between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s and are often considered one of the main consumer groups of fast fashion. This generation grew up in the digital era and tends to be influenced by fashion trends, seeking inexpensive and trendy clothing.

    Generation Z: includes young people born from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. It’s considered one of the main consumer groups of fast fashion. Having grown up in an age of immediate access to information and social media, Generation Z members often seek inexpensive and trendy clothing to keep up with trends.

    Teenagers: teenagers from various generations, particularly those approaching adulthood, are often drawn to fast fashion. The need to express their identity and follow social trends can lead teenagers to seek inexpensive and trendy clothing.

    Young adults: often encompass individuals between the ages of 20 and 30. They represent another age group that frequently engages with fast fashion. Being in a transitional phase and often with limited financial resources, many young adults seek inexpensive and trendy clothing that fits their lifestyle.

This data, which seems quite obvious, conflicts, however, with the narrative that portrays the new generations as the most sensitive to environmental issues.

Is this a contradiction or an internal division within this generation, opposing two ways of thinking and acting in practice?

If action is needed, it should start with informing and raising awareness among the age groups most attracted to low-cost consumption about the importance of our daily choices. How? Simply pleasing the younger generation with beautiful things might not be enough.

At Spirit of St. Louis, we witness this every day. Young people, even the very young, are drawn to our garments. They are particularly captivated by our Iceman (take a look) in blue jeans; so in line with fashion because it anticipated the return of the cargo-style pants with white stitching two years ago, in stark contrast to the fabric.

Pantalone uomo Iceman in blue jeans. USA, epoca 1880-1920

Iceman, a blue jeans by Spirit of St. Louis

Iceman blue jeans vintage in stile work di Spirit of St. Louis. Dettaglio del cinturino posteriore.jpg - Spirit of St. Louis
Iceman pantalone work uomo, Spirit of St. Louis - dettigio del cinturino posteriore
Iceman - pantalone uomo work vintage - in denim giapponese - Spirit of St. Louis

Details of the Iceman blue jeans, in Kuroki® Japanese denim 

However, if Spirit of St. Louis has been able to see ahead, even way ahead of the trendy fashion, only a few manage to overcome the obstacle of comparing the price tag of low-cost clothing.

This is where the role of parents and extended family to the closest relatives comes into play in doing their part. Our experience tells us it’s possible. Indeed, parents often purchase our garments for their children… from a distance. They send photos and videos of the entire collection via WhatsApp and encourage them to choose what they like.

To us, it seems like a great way to instill in young people a culture of quality.

What kind of clothing should be preferred to counteract the effects of fast fashion?

Even though influencers encourage buying luxury brands, it’s not entirely true that only expensive clothing reduces environmental impact. In fact, artisanal clothing can significantly differ in terms of durability and cost for the consumer while reducing pollution caused by fast fashion.

Artisanal pieces

Artisanal pieces, handcrafted by skilled artisans, generally employ high-quality materials and undergo slower, more meticulously crafted production processes.

This can result in a high-quality product, with greater attention to detail and increased durability. Artisanal garments may use superior-quality fabrics, sturdy stitching, and precise finishes, contributing to a longer lifespan compared to fast fashion items.

In terms of cost for the consumer, artisanal products tend to be more expensive than fast fashion ones. This reflects the dedicated craftsmanship, attention to detail, and use of superior materials.

Artisanal clothing may require more time and skill to produce, which is reflected in the final price for the consumer.

On the other hand, fast fashion items are generally mass-produced, using inexpensive materials and low-cost production processes. This can affect the durability and quality of the clothing, as they are often made with less durable materials and less meticulous workmanship.

They may be more accessible in terms of price, but might require more frequent replacements due to their shorter lifespan.

We're buttoned up to Made in Italy

Even our buttons are made in Italy.

Cinquetasche in denim giapponese, dettaglio dei bottoni made in Italy. Spirit of St. Louis.

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What actions can artisans take to compete with fast fashion?

Spirit of St. Louis implements all the actions and strategies that craftsmanship can adopt to compete with fast fashion:

  1. Emphasizing uniqueness and craftsmanship: we offer unique, high-quality products, handmade with care and attention to detail. This sets us apart from the mass production and homogeneity of fast fashion.
  2. Promoting sustainability: we adopt sustainable practices, using eco-friendly materials and low-impact production processes. This can attract consumers who are increasingly aware of the importance of sustainability.
  3. Focusing on local production: we leverage the advantages of local production, working closely with local communities and preserving artisanal traditions. This fosters a sense of belonging and supports local economies.
  4. Educating consumers: we seek to educate consumers about the value of artisanal products, explaining our story and the positive impact we can have on the environment and communities.
  5. Collaborating and networking: Spirit of St. Louis collaborates with artisans to create networks and synergies. This enhances the visibility of the artisanal sector and expands market opportunities.
  6. Incorporating technology: we use technology to improve production processes, reach a wider audience through digital platforms, and promote our business through online marketing.

How to distinguish the quality of the clothing product?

Ultimately, craftsmanship can differentiate itself from fast fashion by offering a more personalized shopping experience, a quality product, sustainability, and a connection with culture and tradition.

Disegno e progettazione Spirit of St. Louis

Spirit of St. Louis is handmade clothing from the beginning to finish. Here while we are designing.

Primo piano della classica fibbia del pantalone Gurkha, montata su un pantalone Spirit of St. Louis - gurkha trousers

Close up of the classic Gurkha trouser buckle, mounted on a Spirit of St. Louis trouser – gurkha trousers

Lindy Hop gurkha uomo di Spirit of St. Louis Italia retrò e vintage fashion

Strong personality and quality even in the smallest details: what fast fashion cannot give you.

Cinquetasche in denim - Spirit of St. Louis

I brand locali di qualità si fanno riconoscere: la loro produzione è verificabile.

What can consumers do to counteract the undesirable effects of fast fashion?

Consumers can take several actions to counter the undesirable effects of fast fashion:

  1. Make informed purchases: educate themselves about the origins and ethical practices of clothing brands before making a purchase. Prefer brands that adopt sustainable and responsible policies towards workers and the environment.
  2. Opt for quality over quantity: prefer quality clothing items that last longer over frequently buying low-quality garments. This reduces waste production and promotes a more sustainable consumption mindset.
  3. Choose second-hand clothing: explore buying used clothes or exchanging items with friends or family. This decreases the influx of new clothing into the market and contributes to reusing and recycling clothes. Vintage markets or small thrift stores are good options.
  4. Support local craftsmanship: back local artisans by purchasing handmade clothing and traditional products. This supports the local economy and contributes to preserving artisanal traditions.
  5. Reduce, repair, and recycle: reduce the accumulation of clothes in your wardrobe, repair damaged garments instead of discarding them, and recycle clothes no longer in use through specific recycling programs.
  6. Educate oneself on the subject: learn about the impacts of fast fashion and spread awareness among friends and family. Participate in initiatives and campaigns promoting sustainable and responsible fashion.
  7. Prefer short supply chains, craftsmanship, and handmade products: as you can notice, buying, producing, and exchanging from short supply chains is the key to success. Preferring local products is always the best choice; not only does it limit harmful emissions, but it also supports local economies and produces longer-lasting products. Handmade, local products, craftsmanship, manufacturing, etc., introduce better, healthier, and more durable products into the market while preserving the knowledge and cultural heritage that originated and developed within the territory.
  8. Limit the ability and ease of spending for minors who lack maturity to responsibly shop online.

Consumer actions can have a significant impact in promoting a more sustainable and responsible fashion, influencing brand choices, and promoting change throughout the fashion industry.

Take a look to what we do

Spirit of St. Louis is doing its part entirely.

Join us in advancing our project; take a look at our shop!

Iceman in cotone kaki by Spirit of St. Louis.

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